People

Elizabeth R Ballou, PhD

Liz is a fungal geneticist and cell biologist investigating how human fungal pathogens integrate environmental signals to change morphology and cause disease. She obtained a PhD in Genetics and Genomics from Duke University, USA, where she demonstrated the role of conserved Rho-GTPases in Cryptococcus neoformans morphogenesis and thermotolerance. In 2012, she joined the Aberdeen Fungal Group, where she demonstrated the ability of Candida albicans to mask cell wall PAMPs in response to host signals. In 2015, through a BBSRC Future Leaders Fellowship, she returned her focus to Cryptococcus, demonstrating that the yeast-to-titan switch is mediated by bacterial peptidoglycan. In 2017 she moved to the University of Birmingham, where her lab, funded by a Wellcome Trust Henry Dale Fellowship, investigates molecular mechanisms underlying titanisation, particularly during host adaptation and drug resistance. In collaboration with Kerstin Voelz, PhD, members of her group also investigate how bacterial endosymbionts drive pathogenesis in Mucorales species.

Current Lab Members

Xin Zhou, Graduate Student
Phoebe joined the Ballou lab in 2017 as a PhD student. She is investigating the molecular mechanisms underpinning the yeast-to-titan transition in Cryptococcus neoformans. Phoebe is funded by a Darwin Trust studentship.  


Hanna Zafar, Graduate Student
Hanna joined the Ballou lab in 2018 as a PhD student. She is investigating the contribution of Cryptococcus titan cells to drug resistance in clinical isolates. Hanna is funded by an NC3Rs studentship.


Poppy Sephton-Clark, Graduate Student
Poppy joined the Voelz lab in 2016 as a PhD student. She is investigating the transcriptional regulation of germination in the human fungal pathogens Rhizopus delemar. Following the closure of the Voelz lab in 2017, she joined the Ballou lab, where she has continued this work, and expanded her analysis to host-pathogen-endosymbiont interactions in Rhizopus species. Poppy is funded by a Midlands Integrative Biosciences Training Partnership (MIBTP) studentship.


Diana Tamayo, PhD
Diana joined the Ballou lab in 2019 as a post-doc. She is investigating the molecular mechanisms underpinning the yeast-to-titan transition in Cryptococcus neoformans.


Shijie Gong
Mike joined the Ballou lab in 2019 as an MSc at the University of Birmingham. Mike will investigate the contribution of Nox and NoxR to Cryptotoccus growth and stress resistance and the yeast-to-Titan transition.


Suwadee Jirasakpisarn
Rainy joined the Ballou lab in 2019 as an MSc at the University of Birmingham. Rainy will investigate the capacity of novel chemotherapeutic compounds to inhibit growth and drug resistance of Cryptococcus titan cells.


Former members

Graduate students

Ambre Chapuis
Amber started her PhD in Donna MacCallum’s lab at the University of Aberdeen in 2016, where Liz was her joint supervisor until 2017. Ambre is funded by the NC3Rs to test the suitability of genetically encoded fluorescent proteins for the in vivo imaging of Candida albicans and Cryptococcus neoformans infections.


Herbert Itabangi, PhD
Herbert joined the Voelz lab in 2015 through the Wellcome Trust Strategic Award in Medical Mycology (@WTSAHub). His PhD investigated the role of bacterial endosymbionts in the pathogenesis of Rhizopus microsporus. Following the closure of the Voelz lab in 2017, he joined the Ballou Lab, where he completed his thesis and graduated in 2018. Herbert is now a a Medical Mycologist in the Department of Microbiology and Dermatology at Mbarara University of Science and Technology, Uganda.


Helen Wilkinson
Helen joined the Ballou lab in 2017 as an MRes a the University of Birmingham. Helen investigated the impact of environmental pre-condition on Cryptococcus stress response and pathogenesis. She is currently completing a PhD at the University of Warwick as part of the Midlands Integrative Biosciences Training Partnership (MIBTP).


Christina Nikolakopoulou
Christina is an fungal immunologist and fungal biologist. She joined the Ballou lab in 2015 as an undergraduate at the University of Aberdeen and then returned as an MRes through the MRC Centre for Medical Mycology. While in the group, she investigated the contribution of Nox and NoxR to Cryptotoccus growth and stress resistance and the yeast-to-Titan transition. She is currently completing a PhD in the laboratory of Prof Gordon Brown at the MRC Centre for Medical Mycology.


Medina Anibal
Medina joined the Ballou lab in 2018 as an MRes at the University of Birmingham. Medina investigated the role of host-derived reactive species on fungal survival and stress responses.


Undergraduates

Thomas Drake
While an undergraduate at the University of Aberdeen in 2015, Tom worked on Cryptococcus neoformans and identified conditions for inducing Titan cells and screened for mutants deficient in Titanisation. These findings were the foundation of a paper published in 2018 in PLOS Pathogens. He currently works in industry.


Elizabeth Spink
Elizabeth joined the Ballou Lab as a BSc student at the University of Birmingham in 2017. She investigated the role of the cytoskeleton in Cryptococcus cell growth during Titanisation.


Georgina Phillips
Georgie joined the Ballou Lab as a BSc student at the University of Birmingham in 2017. She investigated the contribution of Cryptococcus Titan cells to drug resistance.


Rob Hall
Rob joined the Ballou Lab as a BSc student at the University of Aberdeen in 2015. He investigated the role of stress pre-exposure in priming Cryptococcus for host pathogenesis.